Listening Session on the Opioid Crisis: Bridging the Gap Between Public Health and Public Safety

The Franklin County Overdose Task Force and the Pennsylvania Consortium for addressing Heroin and Opioid Addiction (PaCHOA) hosted a listening session Thursday evening, October 5, 2017 at the Central Presbyterian Church in Chambersburg. The goal of the listening session was to explain how the local and regional service delivery system is addressing the opioid crisis and then to learn, from those who are directly and indirectly affected by the crisis, how the system can be improved. At least ten Pennsylvanians die every day from a drug overdose, with over 3,500 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2015 alone

Dr. Glenn Sterner, PhD., chair of PaCHOA, facilitated a panel discussion and question and answer session with the audience. Panelists discussed strategies being using by law enforcement and the public health system to address the opioid crisis. Matt Fogal, Franklin County District Attorney and chair of the Franklin County Overdose Task Force, stressed that the opioid crisis is a public health issue, not a law enforcement issue. The task force, which has over 70 at large members, works to facilitate connections with agencies and communities and to create initiatives to address the crisis. Fogal talked about new programs and strategies that have launched over the last year to help address the crisis, including making naloxone more accessible to reverse overdoses, establishing a drug court to address jail population overcrowding and utilizing a grand jury to assist with drug investigations. Fogal also announced a new program, Get Back Up, that  will allow anyone seeking help with addiction to any drugs or alcohol to go to a police station, without being penalized for a crime, for help. Program participants will then be connected to an appropriate inpatient or outpatient treatment program.

April Brown, the Franklin/Fulton County Drug and Alcohol Administrator, discussed the variety of services and programs available to anyone seeking help with prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery, including financial assistance. Brown explained that it’s important to understand that everyone is different and each person requires an individualized plan; there is no cookie-cutter solution. When asked what is the one thing community members can do to help with the crisis, Brown suggested being non-judgmental of those dealing with addiction and substance use issues and to promote stigma reduction. Brown also announced a partnership with Positive Recovery Solutions, which will provide a mobile-vivitrol clinic in Franklin County in October 2017.

Over the last ten years, more research has surfaced about effective treatment strategies. Dr. Frank Mozdy, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Summit Physician Services, said that one of those strategies is medication-assisted treatment. There are three, equally important parts to this form of treatment:

  • Medication
  • Counseling
  • Support from family and friends

In addition to promoting treatment programs, Dr. Mozdy said that the medical community has been examining and discussing what changes the healthcare system may make to influence a decline in opioid use and overdose in the county.

About 40 audience members participated in an interactive survey and shared their input about how to improve services and programming. A challenge identified was the delay in getting people into treatment when they are ready for treatment. It can be a 14-day wait for some people to get the help they need, which in many cases is enough time for people to change their minds. Other needs identified were more detox beds, recovery and social support groups, bereavement and grief support, more rehabilitation centers, more cognitive behavioral therapy programs and harm reduction programs, like needle exchange programs.

If you’d like to help, please take a few minutes to take this stigma reduction survey, as it will assist the Franklin County Overdose Drug Task Force with identifying more strategies.

You can follow the Franklin County Drug Task Force on Facebook and at this website.